Will there ever be a film more precisely attuned to the mood of 2022, post-pandemic, post-Trump-debacle, mid-social-media-addicted ADHD?
Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s Everything Everywhere All at Once is an adrenaline blast directly to the heart and cerebrum both—spastic, uproarious, mind-bending in all the right ways, a twisty-thrilling emotionally resonant phantasmagoria of multiple wacky dimensions spanning the breadth of the universe as well as the bonds within a single family. If you’re the right kind of moviegoer, this one’s gonna hit you directly in the sweet spot, as long as that sweet spot has been nurtured by pop culture and The Matrix and Yuen Woo-ping martial arts and Ratatouille. It’ll make you laugh uncontrollably one moment, and then squeeze helpless tears from your googly-eye ducts the next. It contains the lowest, grossest forms of juvenilia and the grandest, most essential questions of life—and everything in between. It is a wild, frenetic miracle of celluloid, and we should celebrate every crazy moment of it.
A quick plot summary misses the point of this undertaking, but I’ll give it a go: Everything Everywhere All at Once begins in a struggling laundromat, where the Wang family lives and works—tirelessly in both cases. Evelyn (the great Michelle Yeoh) is the harried matriarch, stressed beyond the breaking point, living a life of seething disappointment. She’s married to Waymond (Ke Huy Quan of Goonies and Temple of Doom fame), easygoing mouse of a man nevertheless yearning for something more. The couple has a daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu), enduring struggles of her own, in the form of her barely acknowledged sexuality and general dissatisfaction with her station within the family. And then there’s Evelyn’s visiting father, Gong Gong (the legendary James Hong), whose presence for an upcoming party represents generations of familial disapproval and disappointment. When the family is summoned for a doomsday meeting at the IRS building with Inspector Deirdre Beaubeirdra (a gloriously frumpy Jamie Lee Curtis), the movie explodes like a kaleidoscope, and all you can do is hold on to your armrests.
Everything Everywhere All at Once wears its influences proudly on its sleeve, and you’ll see right away that its chief source of inspiration is The Matrix, from its early office-hallway setting to its martial-arts sensibilities to its basic concept of The One—except that concept is inverted. Whereas Keanu Reeves’ Neo is The One, a messianic figure bound to save the world, Yeoh’s Evelyn is a true Zero (reminding this viewer also of Scott Pilgrim), a void of ambition, having failed to capitalize on the myriad opportunities in her life when she could’ve made something of herself. Of all the possible Evelyns she might have become, she’s the absolute least. And that’s what makes her the purest. As the film bursts into its innumerable colorful multiverses (a concept that’s all the rage in today’s cinema), this characterization manages against all odds to attain a truly affecting profundity. And Yeoh is just the right action star to make the role reverberate. Throughout her long career, she’s always had that captivating mix of physical prowess and disarming softness—alongside a great sense of humor—and all those traits work gangbusters here. Yeoh is asked to inhabit increasingly gonzo iterations of herself, from sign twirler to Benihana chef to movie star to dangling pinata to prehistoric rock (wait, what?), and she handles each with aplomb.
Ostensibly, Everything Everywhere All at Once concerns itself with the chaotic, dense details of those swirling multiverses, but really it’s a movie about one struggling family. Evelyn’s husband Waymond, who begins the film as the very image of mediocrity (and, to make matters even worse for Evelyn, is seeking a divorce from her), is the person who introduces her to, and guides her through, the multiverse adventure. Her daughter Joy, whom we’re introduced to as a haunted, freefalling figure, becomes the film’s raging, shapeshifting villain. It will be Evelyn’s task to first understand these forces, then come to terms with them, and then not just vanquish them but … well, no spoilers here. Suffice it to say that Ke Huy Quan and Stephanie Hsu are very much up to their crazy, multifaceted tasks and serve as more than capable screen partners to Yeoh; Ke Huy Quan in particular is wonderful to see onscreen again, both from a nostalgic perspective and from the simple happy understanding that he is genuinely perfect for this role. The breadth of the part demands that he go from dweeby background hubby to martial arts master to suave leading man at the drop of a headset. And you get all this whirlwind casting delight before you even get to the IRS offices that house Jamie Lee Curtis, nearly unrecognizable but offering her greatest, uninhibited inhabitation of a character in years.
It’s a very difficult film to describe, perhaps best left to uninformed first viewing. It’s bizarre, juvenile, and utterly hilarious. It can be gloriously nonsensical, hopping from one timeline to another and then to a bit of whimsical puppetry or animation, and yet the narrative and emotional throughlines are perfectly sturdy and straightforward. Evelyn’s herculean efforts to make sense of her multiverses occur wholly inside that drab IRS office building, but her adventure takes her across the universe and back. The film’s characters’ journeys are vivid and weighty despite the movie’s tendency toward go-for-broke weirdness and cinematic fearlessness. I honestly can’t remember a film that so squarely bombarded the pleasure center of my brain. It has the spirited energy of a film like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World or Speed Racer, but everything is ratcheted to 11. And to be honest—if I were to acknowledge anything resembling a flaw—that energy and pace can get close to exhausting. At two hours twenty minutes, Everything Everywhere All at Once becomes a cardiovascular accomplishment. It seems to have several endings, and the use of chapter subheadings doesn’t do it any favors.
But you can never have too much of a good thing, right? Because this is not just a series of invigorating action sequences. A huge heart beats at the center of it. No, I’m not talking about the pulsing everything bagel that comes to represent the “zero” of Evelyn’s void of potentialities but rather a true beating heart holding her and her family together, keeping them from exploding apart. The emotion of this film blindsides you, both because it’s unexpected in this big lovable cartoon of a movie but more because it reveals itself from so many directions. How many films can make you cry with a long stationary shot of a rock?
I’ll end this hearty recommendation with the notion that Everything Everywhere All at Once somehow manages to be the perfect, hopeful post-pandemic film. It’s a movie that embraces who we’ve become as a culture in the wake of a bewildering few years, politically and sociologically, and finds a way to transcend the bitterness and the nihilism. It revels in the sensory overload of GenZ social media, finding warm humor in it, and it delivers a kindness wallop in its closing minutes that will take your breath away.
Everything Everywhere All at Once is a rare treat. It’s a marvel that it exists. Go see it with wide-open eyes, mind, and heart.